National

Moderate Muslims need to
speak up

As many parts of the world face growing threats against religious tolerance from radical Muslims, the role of moderate Muslims is much needed, especially to counter such hostility, analysts say.

During the discussion of a book entitled Silenced: How Apostasy and Blasphemy Codes are Choking Freedom Worldwide on Tuesday, one of the authors, Paul Marshall, said that the growing radicalism is now a new worldwide phenomenon.

Marshall, who is also a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute Center for Religious Freedom in Washington DC in the United States, added that this phenomenon has never occurred before, and more Muslim authorities in recent years are suggesting that Sharia Law should be enforced on non-Muslims in non-Muslim countries.

“The role of moderate Muslims is key, and more important than anything else, and if you’re going to combat radicalism, in terms of debate and ideas, the arguments should be made by Muslims, because they [radical groups] don’t know other arguments,” Marshall told The Jakarta Post.

In his book, co-written by Nina Shea, Marshall said that most of the actual repression was not done by the state. Some may be carried out by the states, but mobs, vigilantes or terrorists did more repression. “Most of the accusations are vague, and often shaped by political manipulation,” Marshall said.

Another finding in his book is that there are four major sets of victims: post Islamic religion (Baha’is, Ahmadis); actual apostates, converts and unbelievers; Muslims of the wrong type in the wrong place (Sunni, Shia, Sufi); and Muslim religious and political reformers and dissidents (novelist, poets, journalists, political reformers).

Marshall also said that the restrictions imposed on Islam believers are much worse than the restrictions that the radicals impose on the non-Muslim, as debate within Islam is usually considered more offensive. “If the people are not allowed to debate within Islam, then debates on on culture, politics, economics, science and education also become restricted,” Marshall said.

“Without religious freedom, there will be no political freedom,” he added.

Ahmad Syafii Ma’arif, former Muhammadiyah chairman, echoed Marshall statements, saying that radical Muslims were basically the minorities, therefore the majority of moderates have the power to condemn the radicals. “These radicals hijacked God for political purposes,” Syafii said. “If Islam is led by the moderate, the enlightened people, then I think Islam can compete with any nation,” he said. “However, the majority of moderates prefer to be silent rather than to counter the radicals,” he added.

According to Syafii, the radicals are more vocal because their actions were based on economics. “Even though Indonesia’s economic growth is satisfying, the number of marginalized people in this country is still many, and most of them see their actions as part of their livelihoods,” Syafii told the Post.

According to Marshall, the Indonesian government also plays a major role in condemning radicalism, and the first thing that the government should do is review the 1965 Blasphemy Law.

The law basically stipulates that the government has the authority to dissolve religious groups whose beliefs and practices were deemed blasphemous by the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI) and the Religious Affairs Ministry. Under the law, the government also has the authority to charge leaders and followers of suspected heretical groups.

Marshall said that the Indonesian government has weak law enforcement, and the blasphemy law has been used against the minorities. “The Shia leader was put in prison. People think that this person is bad and shouldn’t be here, so the people feel more justified in attacking him,” he said, citing the imprisonment of Shia leader Tajul Muluk in Sampang, East Java last August and the recent attack of the group.

“I worry about radicalism here. The fact is that the blasphemy law has been used to encourage and allow attacks by radicalists,” Marshall said. (nad)

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